GUNUNG PADANG: The key master of Indonesia’s oldest megalithic site
The pyramidal megalithic site „Gunung Padang“ in Westjava is proof of one of the oldest civilizations in the world. The megalithic building is around 9000 years old and thus even beats the pyramids of Egypt. Through this discovery history-books have to be rewritten and stories retold. Since further research is discontinued at the moment and the results are still controversial, we have to wait for more details. Meanwhile however, we would like to report a fascinating Indonesian man, who is closely related to Gunung Padang by birth. He is the sites so-called “Juru Kunci”/”Keeper of the key” and therefore he spent his whole life at the foot of the hill, protecting it and passing on his knowledge to further generations.
GUNUNG PADANG FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF ITS KEYMASTER
While most articles review the most spectacular aspects of the site and its immense significance for world history, we would like to change the usual perspective and discover the megalithic building from the point of view of its keymaster. Keymasters in Java are custodians of sacred and spiritual places. Therefore our main effort is, to tell an unusual story in order to get to know Indonesia and its locals from an Insiders perspective. We will follow the personal destiny and memories of an Indonesian, who entered a life-long close connection with the Gunung Padang (“Mountain of Light”) as its Juru Kunci (“Keeper of the Key”) – Bapak Nanang Sukmana.
400 steps directly lead from Bapak Nanang’s picturesque house to the top of the mountain, which is formed by five continuously rising terraces. Surrounded by a stunning mountainous landscape and tea plantations, Gunung Padang is located in Westjava, Cianjur region. Every day the dainty but powerful Sundanese man climbs up the stairs – sometimes even several times. Today, we accompany Bapak Nanang and learn more about his daily tasks and his knowledge of the site. Having arrived at the top we spot a group of young Indonesian policemen already visiting Gunung Padang. After some small talking, Bapak Nanang tells them some anecdotes about the history of this cultural heritage. Between the monoliths some joss sticks are burning down – the spiritual significance of the place is still a central component for the local community.
“GUNUNG PADANG DOESN’T ONLY CONSIST OF STONE STRUCTURES, MOREOVER IT CONTAINS ELEMENTS OF OUR HISTORY” (Bahwa Gunung Padang itu bukan hanya tumpulkan batu, tetapi mangandung unsur sejarah)”,
Bapak Nanang reveals in an eloquent way. The Gunung Padang not only is testimony of an ancient civilization. It shaped our history until this day, containing several layers of historical building periods. Moreover, the history of discovery is traditionally mentioned in the first reports of the Dutch colonialists in 1914. However, the local community has been using the site as spiritual place since at least 1763. Overgrown by natural vegetation, the megalithic building has transformed over thousands of years into one of the countless hills of Cianjur. But the local residents knew already for a long time – something is different with this hill. After the Dutch’s report of the site, recognizing a stone structure while looking for more ground for tea plantations in 1914, the discovery fell into oblivion. It then was Bapak Nanang’s great-great-grandfather, who rediscovered the Gunung Padang in 1979 and officially reported it to the Indonesian government for the first time. He also became the first “Juru Kunci”, who took responsibility for the sacred site and passed it on to his son and grandson.
“This is a musical stone that works like the Sundanese instrument Kecapi,” Bapak Nanang tells us, demonstrating the different tones with the stone sound body. Some of the stones of volcanic origin contain a higher intensity of energy and are intended for meditative purposes. Bapak Nanang then asks us to put our hands on the stone and close our eyes to feel the vibrations more intensely. We then continue to walk slowly from one etage to the next one. Each terrace offers different functions for mental preparation for the fifth and last one, which is destined for those who already reached the spiritual accomplishment.
“BUT I DON’T FEEL LIKE A KEY MASTER (Saya tidak merasa sebagai juru kunci),”
Bapak Nanang humbly comments, when answering the question how he handles his fateful job as custodian of the Gunung Padang. His training to follow his father’s footsteps, however, was far from easy. On many open queries Bapak Nanang was asking his father, he just heard a “You must find out yourself, son”. Therefore Bapak Nanang spent days and nights on the top of Gunung Padang to find his own answers through meditation and self-study. He finally took over the position in the fourth generation in 1996. But for his own son, he wants him to make his own decision, whether to continue taking care about Gunung Padang and becoming the next “Juru Kunci” or not. Because if he decides to take over, he will morally commit himself to protect the sacred place and to pass on the knowledge for his whole lifetime.
It is Friday. At 11 o’clock, we set off for the weekly community prayer in the nearby local mosque. Like 88% of all Indonesians, Bapak Nanang is Muslim. And like 79% of all people living in Westjava, he belongs to the ethnic group of the Sundanse. While sharing his knowledge about Gunung Padang he often combines elements of the site with Islamic and Sundanese philosophy. So for example the magical number five is thus not only reflected in the overall concept of the cultural heritage (5 terraces, Gunung Padang is surrounded by 5 mountains/hills, 5 corners in almost every stone, etc.), but it is also an elementary component of nature (5 elements) as well as of religious theories (5 pillars of Islam). Bapak Nanang is aware that the site was built long before the arrival of Islam. However, similar concepts simplify the adaptation process of new religions, so that we have to think religious elements as cross-connections and moving joints. Indonesia is a mixture of religions, whereby animistic beliefs exist alongside monotheistic ones. Moreover local traditions and cultures are still crucial part of Indonesia’s daily life. Thus, Bapak Nanang points to a stone with interesting engraving shape, explaining: “This is the kujang stone. It shows the traditional Sundanese sword.”
JURU KUNCI IN TIMES OF FACEBOOK
Especially Bapak Nanang’s period as Juru Kunci was characterized and shaped by rapid changes and new discoveries concerning the sacred site. In 1985, the five terraces were cleared from being a forest. First in 2010 researchers found out that the terraced structure is just the top of a still covered superstructure of a megalithic pyramid. During this period the international media interest increased and Gunung Padang started to become a tourist destination, opened to the public in 2015. Bapak Nanang could finally make his vocation to his profession and became one of the responsible persons for Tourism at the site. However, his efforts go beyond his daily working tasks. Those who are truly interested, are more than welcome to have a chat with Bapak Nanang at his home even until late night. Additionally, Bapak Nanang uses modern social media channels like Facebook to keep the public up-to-date about the latest developments of the megalithic site.
After the Friday prayer, we return to the top of the Gunung Padang and meet with a Mexican, currently living in Taiwan, who is meditating within a stone circle close to the myrrh tree (kemenyan). While chatting with Kevin later on we find out that he’s a hobby-tourist for megalithic sites and he had chosen Gunung Padang in Westjava for his birthday destination this year. Not really knowing what he had to expect, the megalithic building immediately aroused its fascination and after a conversation with us and Bapak Nanang, he decides to return the following day and stay overnight at the top. Because during the night under the starry sky, the meditation experience at Gunung Padang is even more intense, as Bapak Nanang mentions.
GUNUNG PADANG: INDONESIA’S BEST KEPT SECRET
While the Buddhist temple complex Borobudur attracts thousands of tourists every year, at the latest since its status as UNESCO world heritage site, Gunung Padang remains largely unaffected. Until now mostly local tourists visit the megalithic site, often in context with spiritual tourism. Sometimes in addition, a handful of international travellers, mostly on their own initiative due to personal interest, find their way to Indonesia’s oldest pyramid.
MAKE GUNUNG PADANG STOP WHILE TRAVELLING INDONESIA!
If you want to experience the Gunung Padang megalithic site still without the crowds of other tourists, this is surely the right time. Four hours from Jakarta, the cultural heritage site is particularly atmospheric during the week and the landscape scenery is a huge plus anyway. At present the entrance fee is a donation of IDR 5000. Only a small village is located at the foot of the hill, where you can find a warung (local restaurant) or mie ayam (chicken noodles). So if you want to stay overnight, we recommend to get some snacks before. The only accommodation in the village is Bapak Nanangs private house. He has two simple but cosy rooms and for a small donation he always welcomes guests to stay there. You can simply ask for him when arriving at Gunung Padang or contact him through Facebook:
HOW TO GET TO THE MEGALITHIC SITE BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT (from Jakarta)
From the central train station in Jakarta you have to transit at MANGGARAI STATION. From there take another train to BOGOR (it will cost you around 6000 IDR). In BOGOR you have to find the Pangrango train, that goes from BOGOR to SUKABUMI (tickets cost between 20.000 IDR and 50.000 IDR, depending which class you take). In SUKABUMI you have to switch train for a last time: Take the Siliwangi train, which goes to CIANJUR (tickets range between 20.000 and 35.000 IDR). Get out at the train station LAMPEGAN (it is one before Cianjur). From the train station it is another 7 km to the site and the best way is to continue with OJEK (motor taxi). The price should not be more than 50.000 IDR. According to the Jakarta Post (May 2017) there will be soon a tourist-train to the site.
Watch our trailer for our up-coming short documentation about the site and its relation to the key holder of “Gunung Padang”: